JOHANNESBURG – South Africa gave the green light on Friday for class action suits seeking damages from gold companies for up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis underground.
The High Court decision sets the stage for protracted proceedings in the largest class action suits in Africa’s most industrialized country. Analysts have said the suits could cost the gold industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Judge Phineas Mojapelo said workers who had died of the diseases could be included in the suits, with any damages paid to family members, and that each mining company should be held liable separately for any damages.
“We hold the view that in the context of this case, class action is the only realistic option through which most mine workers can assert their claims effectively against the mining companies,” Mojapelo said in a unanimous ruling by three judges.
“Mining companies will be held liable or responsible for their own actions for unlawful emissions,” he said. Some miners walked out of the courthouse triumphantly with fists raised, while activists sang and danced outside.
“This will make a difference in our lives, because we have been struggling for so long,” said Vuyani Dwadube, 74, a former rock driller who worked at Harmony Gold and suffers from tuberculosis.
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